Comparing two films: The Secret Life of Bees (2001) and The Help (2011)

The Secret Life of Bees is a 2008 Hollywood production that embraces the drama genre.  Based on the novel of the same title by Sue Monk Kidd, the film deals with the life and struggles of a young girl Lily Owens (played by Dakota Fanning) who runs away from home after the demise of her mother, of whom she develops a longing and remorse.  This film shares quite a few similarities, as well as a few differences, with The Help (2011), which is an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel of the same title.  The rest of the essay will highlight these aspects.

The most obvious similarity is that both films belong to the drama genre.  The other similarity is their tackling of minority/women’s rights issues during America of 1960s.  For example, the life and travails of Lily in The Secret Life of Bees is congruent to that of the two black maids in The Help, who are hired by Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan as domestic helps.  But Skeeter is not the typical white oppressor character, in that, she succeeds in being able to see the problem of discrimination and racism from the point of view of her maids. It is a symbolic reflection of the changing cultural currents of 1960s America that Skeeter goes onto creates art (a novel) out of the predicament of the two black maids.  In this respect, The Help can be said to contain a progressive and liberating message compared to the more implicit social message of The Secret Life of Bees.

The other similarity between the two films is that they are adapted from the written form.  Given that the operant word with the medium of film is one of simplification, the two directors Gina Prince-Bythewood and Tate Taylor, bring the essence of the two books to light.  The core themes of both the movies are one of emancipation through volitional action.  And both directors manage to showcase this message of hope to the audience.  For example, the transformation of the embittered youth of Lily into the comforts of her newfound family is achieved against all odds.  The prospect of a bright future for her is the closing image of the film.  This optimism is clearly seen in The Help as well, where the subjects of a form of subjugation are turned into the heroes of a story under the skilful writing of Skeeter.  All the lead characters from the two movies – Aibileen Clark, Minny Jackson, Lily Owens and ‘Skeeter’ – leave an indelible mark on the viewer’s mind through their realistic yet artful representation of Americans of the Hippies generation.

On the whole, the similarities between the two films out number their differences.  And both capture a key transformative period in American history and artfully portray them onscreen in their own distinct styles.

Works Cited:

The Help (2011), directed by Tate Taylor, adapted from The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Distributed by Touchstone Pictures, United States.

The Secret Life of Bees (2001), directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner,, distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures in 2008.